Waltham First Responders Read Books To Children From Afar

Jenna Fisher

WALTHAM, MA — More than 30 Waltham police officers, firefighters and dispatchers have stepped up to read to children amid the coronavirus pandemic - from afar - in an effort to engage students, thanks to a school librarian and a second grade teacher at MacArthur Elementary.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to go online, MacArthur Librarian Stephanie South started using the school library's Twitter and Facebook pages to not only provide resources to students and families but to keep the students engaged in new ways. She hosted a LEGO Masters-style building challenge, took their Word of the Week vocab challenge online there, and she has posted links to activities, virtual field trips and online author readings.

A few days in, she said she noticed a library boosters group in the town where she lives was posting videos online of local police officers reading bedtime stories for kids.

"This struck me as a lovely way of reassuring and entertaining worried young kids whose world had just turned upside down," said South.

One of the school's second grade teachers, Stephanie DiMasi, comes from a Waltham police family — her husband, dad, brother, and brother-in-law are all Waltham police officers — so South asked her if they might be willing to do this in Waltham as well.

Not only did DiMasi convince her husband, Officer Andrew Champion, to read, but she helped set the ball rolling to recruit more than 30 other police, fire fighters and dispatchers to join in.

"We were absolutely amazed and thrilled to see how many Waltham first responders were willing to take the time during this crisis to help our families," South said.

As of right now the project has 33 videos of first responders, many of them related in some way to teachers or with students in Waltham schools. One of the officers, Bill Champion, is the school resource officer at the Fitzgerald School.

"What they all have in common is enthusiasm, willingness to support the children in their community, and amazing read aloud talent," said South.

She's uploaded some of the videos to the Facebook page and the ones with more restricted copyrights to Google Classroom — the platform our students are using for their schoolwork to enjoy.

So far, so good. Students have reported loving watching the local heroes read to them.

"It's thrilling to see educators like Ms. South finding innovative ways to adjust to teaching and learning in a time where educators are having to shift their practices on a dime," said Waltham Public Schools Administrator of Educational Technology Integration Suzana Somers.

Here's a taste of some of the readings:

Patch reporter Jenna Fisher can be reached at Jenna.Fisher@patch.com or by calling 617-942-0474. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@ReporterJenna).Have a press release you'd like posted on the Waltham Patch? Here's how to post a press release, opinion piece.

This article originally appeared on the Waltham Patch